In 1999-2003, Bryce Dallas Howard was enrolled at New York University and studying at the Stella Adler Studio of Acting. Also in New York at the time? Howard's doppelganger, Jessica Chastain, who was at Juilliard on a scholarship from alum Robin Williams.
Now the two fair-skinned, red-haired actresses are facing off onscreen as Southern belle rivals -- Howard as snooty Hilly Holbrook, Chastain as sweet Celia Foote -- in "The Help," based on Kathryn Stockett's best-selling novel about white housewives and their black maids in Mississippi in the early '60s.
At the "Help" junket in Los Angeles, both actresses talked to us about their eerie resemblance to each other and their ongoing case of mistaken identity.
Howard, who played Victoria in "The Twilight Saga: Eclipse" (and who happens to be the daughter of Oscar-winning director Ron Howard), certainly was aware of Chastain during their overlapping period in New York. She recalled, "People were constantly saying that there was a woman in New York who looked just like me. Gradually, I would get more information about her. I would walk into a store and they would say, 'Oh my gosh, your doppelganger was just here!' And that evolved into, 'There is a woman at Juilliard who looks a lot like you,' and then she went to Williamstown Theatre Festival and a bunch of my friends went there, and they would all tell me, 'There is a woman named Jessica Chastain that looks a lot like you.'"
"Even now," Howard continued, "I was at the hair salon three days ago and a woman came up and asked, "Are you Jessica?' And I said, 'No,' but then I said, 'Do you mean Jessica Chastain? Just tell me what you want to tell her and I can email her.' We totally have been mistaken for each other so many times. And I really love that because I think she's beautiful."
Chastain, who most recently appeared in Terrence Malick's "The Tree of Life," has similar ongoing identity mishaps. But being mistaken for a higher profile actress has its downside.
"I was right out of Juilliard," she related, "and I got a job in a play off Broadway. It was my first job, and I was so excited about it... Anyway, it was around the time that 'The Village' [which costarred Howard] came out, and I was on the subway and I noticed these people staring at me. Finally, one of them came up to me and said, 'I'm so sorry to bother you, but I just had to tell that I think you are a wonderful actress.' And I said, 'That is SO sweet! Thank you so much!' I mean, I am just eating it up. Someone thinks I'm great! And then she starts talking about 'The Village' and I'm like, 'Um, no. Not me..."
"It's also happened when I have opened a magazine and I'm like, 'I don’t remember doing this shoot. Oh, wait.' It even happened today, someone told me, 'You are great in the "Help" trailer! You are sooo nasty!' And I'm like, 'Nope. Not me!'"
Chastain hopes she and Howard, both 30, can use their striking mirror images to their advantage, perhaps finding a movie or a play where they can be cast as sisters. "I feel like it’s a power that we must use for good!"
And to make matters even more confusing, Jessica's real last name is Howard, but she took her mother's maiden name -- Chastain -- for work. Smart move.